Somebody resigned? Don't be a fool. Stay cool.

Somebody resigned? Don’t be a fool. Stay cool.

A while ago I wrote what proved to be a popular blog about how to resign with grace.

But what about the manager who gets a resignation? How should they behave?

Sad to say, the commercial world is rife with mind-blowing tales of how badly bosses react when an employee resigns.

In the recruitment industry we all know of cases of petty, vindictive and childish behaviour when an employee resigns, especially to go to a competitor.

I wrote before that the way you exit a company defines you in some way, and can hurt or help you in the future. The same goes for the receiver of the resignation.

I appreciate better than most that the emotions that flood you when an employee resigns unexpectedly can cloud your judgment. You are angry, feel betrayed, scared of the repercussions perhaps.

But retaining your dignity and acting with grace is the best way.

Keep calm. This is hardest thing to do sometimes, I know. Retain your cool. Avoid saying threatening things. “I will get you for this”. Avoid saying emotive things. “After all I have done for you, you repay me with this?” You look foolish at best, and you inevitably inflame the situation. Mostly, if you behave like this it gives the departing employee all the ammunition they need to neglect their remaining obligations to you and the company. So, you lose.

Understand the reasons. This is hard. The employee has prepared their ‘spiel’. They have finessed how they portray the reasons. Often it’s designed to diffuse the situation, and is not the real reason at all. Sometimes it’s an outright lie. You need to dig and explore, calmly and rationally, why this person wants to leave. Maybe the situation can be saved, if that is what you want. Maybe you can learn something about your own business that could save future resignations.

Don’t make an impulsive counter-offer. You face losing a key person. You throw more money at them. There and then. Never a good look. Often regretted. First explore the reasons. Dig and discuss. A restructured package or evolved role may be an answer. But that comes later, in another discussion, if at all.

Don’t boot them out the door. This happens all the time. It makes no sense. If the person is going to take data or secure relationships for their future job, trust me, they have done that already! The damage is already done. So now you need to act in your best interests. And your best interest may be to keep them right where they are while you put a few things in place to mitigate the damage. It might be just for a week, or a few days. But don’t kick them out the door in a knee-jerk display of pique. Be cool. Be smart. Suppress the emotion and the impulse. Play to the commercial imperative.

Don’t be petty. “Well, you can stop using the company car park from today then!” You look like a jerk. Be bigger than that.

Thank them. Yes, I know you are hugely pissed off. But this person worked for you. And if they are still there, we presume you valued their input. Thank them. It can do no harm, and usually helps a lot.

Pay them what they are owed. Your choice, but shortchanging someone at this point inevitably leads to bitterness and often costly repercussions. And your remaining staff will hear of it and your reputation will be damaged.

One door closes, another opens. If I only had a dollar for the times I have felt, and others have told me “We were devastated when she resigned, but in fact it’s been for the best. We never realised how destructive she was in the team, and things are much better now and other people have stepped up…” A resignation may be a negative, but it’s also an opportunity. Look for that opportunity. Who can you promote? What team structure can you now change for the better?

Keep the door open. My attitude to this is simple. If the person leaves on a sour note. Lies, is destructive, does not stick to their notice obligations, or coasts through that period, they are history to me as far as future employment goes. If, on the other hand they resign for sound reasons of their own, give appropriate notice, help with handover, maintain the right attitude, the last thing I say to them is this. “I wish you well, and if the circumstances are right for both of us, the door may well be open here in the future”. I probably re-hired 25 people over the years. And they just about all worked out, because now they know the grass is not greener on the other side.

The way you handle stressful and challenging situations defines you as a leader. It adds to, or detracts from, your internal credibility too.

I know it’s easy for me to give this advice, and in truth there are many times I have not behaved like this myself. But I learned. I got better. I handled things differently over time.

And I was much happier, and more effective as a leader, for it.

I am very interested in your views on this. Please leave your comments below.


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About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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18 Responses to Somebody resigned? Don’t be a fool. Stay cool.

  1. Lyndon Hawk August 26, 2014 at 12:25 pm #


    Great words of wisdom and this is how I believe employees should be treated. Remaining calm and appreciative of the effort and results a person has made is the way to go. It will continue the relationship. A knee jerk counter offer is not what is required as it exposes you to, if that was the case why didn’t you offer me a promotion or more money based upon my performance rather than waiting until I offer my resignation.

    Thank you

  2. Peter Goodwin August 26, 2014 at 12:35 pm #


    This is a great article and addresses so many options and situations. Your professionalism is on the line when dealing with a resignation. In my career, I have delivered one summary dismissal for gross misconduct and this is the only time I have been “aggressive” about someone leaving. In all cases of resignation I have been involved in, I have wished them well, even if going to a competitor and I am happy to say that I have remained on good terms with many of those people for many years following. This has included having them recommend my company to potential clients after they have left the industry — the old ” burn no bridges” concept.

  3. Emily Morgan August 26, 2014 at 1:14 pm #


    If only you could really make people see this!!!! Due to certain actions from people at the top they DO damage their reputation and then no one wants to work for them.

    There is too much of this going on, so much so that I obtain a clear indication of how one reacts to certain things BEFORE I decide whether I want to even recruit for them!

    Yes I want to do the right thing by by client, however I can’t knowingly place a candidate in their office if this is happening whether it be a reaction from resigning or more on a day to day basis for whatever they see fit about yelling over.

    This is why I am NOT a business owner as such, I know I am NOT ready to “stay calm” therefore have my own growing to do first!

    I think admitting that you haven’t always been perfect yourself, says a lot about the person you have grown to be and I admire that, thank-you for being real!

    I love reading your articles, they are truthful, real and informative!

    Keep them coming!

  4. Francesca August 26, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    I can vouch for you practicing exactly what you preach! Thank you for re-hiring me for the 2nd time! I’ll never leave you again (unless you want me to?)

  5. ingrid August 26, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    It is often said that employees resign form PEOPLE not COMPANIES. I believe the exit interview is under used in our industry. On, or just before the resignee’s last date, have another employee do the exit interview even a peer if need be. This will give you an idea of potential leadership problems in your organisation. Your brand is more than the product or service your company render. It is also how you treat your staff and company values that will complete the full picture of BRAND.

  6. Lynne August 27, 2014 at 1:56 am #

    Ingrid, your response resonates with me. I dreaded leaving a couple of untenable situations because I had no faith that the owner or manager could see beyond his perspective. I have also been aware of this worry/concern on the part of other colleagues/friends. To be able to talk openly to someone who cannot empathize or be of a mind to feel they need to be objective is a very good opportunity both for the company and the person leaving. I agree an exit interview should provide more value – and not exist simply as a formality that neither party truly cares about.

  7. Lynne August 27, 2014 at 1:57 am #

    Oops-don’t see where to edit – talk opening to someone who can empathize. .

  8. Lynne August 27, 2014 at 1:59 am #

    OK!!! More coffee or less- !!**


    Help! Was there a way to edit?

  9. Bradley Richardson August 27, 2014 at 2:18 am #

    Greg. you are spot on. Regardless of who leaves who… it is like a breakup and you can act like a child and leave the relationship with resentment or like an adult (still mad or upset) but with class. Sadly too often if feels like a “personal slight” for the hiring manager who (naturally) goes into “oh Sh** what will I do mode” and thus over reacts like a jilted lover. (I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of this… and it’s hard).. but at least in the US there is a tendency to quickly say, “fine… get your *&#$ and get out now. We call employees (family) until it is time to move on, then discard them and leave a lot of ill will.

    – I believe you’re a rugby or cricket fan if I’m correct, I’m sure that the sports analogy is the same. In the US you can trace some of the best football coaches to one or two programs. They served as assistants under a successful coach or program and then left to make a name for themselves… but the good will created from that leader spreads throughout the league and leaves a legacy for that program. People leave… unless they were an ass while there or it is a bad situation… celebrate the run you had, wish them well and move on.

    Keep up the great stuff mate.

    Bradley Richardson, Dallas, Texas

    • Greg Savage August 27, 2014 at 9:06 am #

      Rugby AND Cricket in fact Bradley 🙂
      Agree with your comments. Many thanks


  10. Ian August 28, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    There’s still a (sadly) common mindset in recruitment which is get people out the door, cursing them, laughing at them and trying to make them feel as belittled as you can. Managers believe this to be a way of keeping their other staff members almost through fright of the same thing happening to them.

    As crazy as this sounds on paper, it’s true. Too many managers let their ego’s get in the way of the process.

    To me, exiting people in the right way is also one of the biggest ways of increasing your staff retention.

  11. Kevin September 3, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

    “The way you handle stressful and challenging situations defines you as a leader. It adds to, or detracts from, your internal credibility too.”

    What a coincidence. I had a situation this morning. This is one of the best advise to help career progression.

  12. Anthony Hesse - Property Personnel September 9, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

    Excellent blog Greg! Totally agree with all of this, if only more of my clients did too! We specialise in Estate Agency Recruitment, and some of the negative behaviour you mention in your blog is all too prevalent in that industry! I’ve been thinking of writing something similar for a long time, but just don’t seem to have the time! Cheers! Anthony

  13. Helen September 24, 2014 at 1:07 am #

    Interesting – today of all days! An ex employee who worked for us in 2008 and recently moved back North was rehired to start today in a management role.We were impressed with how she’d grown professionally in the past eight years and her references were glowing……….
    She texted late last night to say she’d changed her mind.
    So whilst I agree with the main points – with regards to leaving the door open? Today it’s closed locked,bolted and trip wired.

  14. Albert Bellamy Belloni September 24, 2014 at 1:27 am #

    Never give any information that is beneficial to improving the job you decided to leave. Resigning should always be the last straw and to your benefit. Stay calm after all the broken promises you were fed, the lies you were told. Yes, keep the friendship but never sell yourself short.

  15. Sophie February 27, 2015 at 2:32 am #

    what about if a candidate who join the company join just 1-2 months and left suddenly?
    how to take this?

  16. Rebecca December 17, 2015 at 12:05 am #

    I had an awful experience with an ex employer who I was with for 4 years. I handed in my notice, albeit on payday to protect myself. The abuse I received was off the scale, their first words were “how dare you, on payday? You know that makes you an F****** thief” they continued literally shouting and screaming at me as they chased me out of the door calling me all sorts of names in front of all my old colleagues to the point I was actually terrified of the consequences and spoke to the police.

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